Eagle’s Landing cityhood movement wins legal battle to keep vote alive

The November referendum to create the new city of Eagle’s Landing cleared a legal hurdle Wednesday after a Henry County judge refused to issue an order to stop it.

Superior Court Judge Arch McGarity denied a request by the city of Stockbridge for an injunction to scuttle the vote, saying attorneys for the Henry municipality failed to prove that the legislation that was crafted to put the cityhood question on the ballot was unconstitutional.

Lawyers for Stockbridge, including former Georgia attorney general Mike Bowers, said they will appeal to the state supreme court.

“I like the judge, I think he’s a fine man,” Bowers said after the hearing, “but I respectfully disagree with him, and we’re going to appeal it.”

Tim Tanner, a lawyer for Eagle’s Landing, said he was pleased by McGarity’s decision and is confident that his clients have a strong case that will hold up before the state’s highest court.

“Obviously, there is nothing certain in law, but we feel very confident in our position,” he said. “At the end of the day, the voters will decide what they want to do.”

Wednesday’s hearing was the latest salvo in a pitched battle between Eagle’s Landing residents, some of whom want to break away from Stockbridge, and Stockbridge leaders, who want to keep the community whole.

To become a city, Eagle’s Landing would take about half of what is now Stockbridge — including about 55 percent of its businesses — under the proposal.

Eagle’s Landing backers argue that they can better guide their community — including attracting high-paying jobs and improving services — as a city separate from Stockbridge. Stockbridge leaders said that allowing Stockbridge to be de-annexed and its territory taken by another city — a first in Georgia — could lead to other communities breaking away from their home cities, such as Buckhead seceding from Atlanta.

Supporters and opponents of the referendum have been holding almost weekly meetings throughout their communities, trying to educate and persuade voters before the Nov. 6 election.

Stockbridge mayor Anthony Ford said he was disappointed by Wednesday’s ruling, but that the cause is not lost. Ford said the city is still considering filing a federal lawsuit, but had not finalized those plans.

“I thought today would go better for us … but we’re not going to give up the fight,” he said. “Obviously, no matter what the decision was today, we were going to go to the Georgia Supreme Court. So I’m still optimistic.”